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Far-left politics or extreme-left politics are politics further on the left of the left-right spectrum than the standard political left. Far-left politics are generally the province of extra-governmental groups and those espousing them are typically opposed to their governments.
Definitions and characteristics
Dr. Luke March of the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, defines the "far left" in Europe as those that place themselves to the left of social democracy, which they see as insufficiently left-wing. The two main sub-types are the so-called "radical left", for their desire for fundamental change to the capitalist system while accepting of democracy, and the "extreme left" who are more hostile to liberal democracy and denounce any compromise with capitalism. March sees four major subgroups within contemporary European far-left politics: communists, democratic socialists, populist socialists and social populists.
In France, the term extrême-gauche ("far left") is a generally accepted term for political groups that position themselves to the left of the French Communist Party, such as Trotskyists, Maoists, anarcho-communists and New Leftists.
In Germany, Eckhard Jesse, a political scientist, regards different kinds of Trotskyists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, national communists, authoritarian socialists, Maoists and Autonomists as local "far left". These people include both Authoritarianists and Libertarianists.
McClosky and Chong further claim that in the United States, the far-left groups they studied are deeply estranged from American society and highly critical of what they perceive as the spiritual and moral degeneration of American institutions; they view American society as dominated by conspiratorial forces that are working to defeat their ideological aims.
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The term ultra-leftism has two overlapping uses. One usage is a generally pejorative term for certain types of positions on the far left that are extreme or intransigent. The term is also used—pejoratively or not—to refer to a particular current of Marxist communism, which is closely related to council communism and left communism.
Ultra-left currents within left communism are often subject to criticisms from other factions of the left. The left communist organization International Communist Current refuses to work with leftist groups except other left communists or anarchists. Gilles Dauvé (also known as Jean Barrot), a left communist theorist, argues that all bourgeois regimes should be opposed, and that revolutionaries should not defend liberal democracy against fascism.
The term ultra left is rarely used in English, in which people tend to speak broadly of left communism as a minor variant of traditional Marxism. The French equivalent, ultra-gauche, has a stronger currency, as it is a more positive term in that language and is used to define a movement that still exists today: a branch of left communism descending from theorists such as Amadeo Bordiga, Otto Rühle, Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter and Paul Mattick, and continuing with more recent writers, such as Jacques Camatte and Gilles Dauvé.
The term originated in the 1920s in the German and Dutch workers movements, originally referring to a Marxist current opposed to both Bolshevism and social democracy, and with some affinities with anarchism. The ultra-left is defined particularly by its breed of anti-authoritarian Marxism, which generally involves an opposition to the state and to state socialism, as well as to parliamentary democracy and wage labour. In opposition to Bolshevism, the ultra left generally places heavy emphasis upon the autonomy and self-organisation of the proletariat.
Used pejoratively, ultra-left generally criticizes positions that are adopted without taking notice of the current situation or of the consequences which would result from following a proposed course. The term is used to criticize leftist positions that, for example, overstate the tempo of events, propose initiatives that overestimate the current level of militancy, or which employ a highly militant tone in their propaganda.
The mainstream Marxist critique of such a position began with Vladimir Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, which attacked those (such as Anton Pannekoek or Sylvia Pankhurst) in the nascent Communist International, who refused to work with parliamentary or reformist socialists. Trotskyists and others see the Communist International's Third Period—when it described social democratic parties as "social fascist" and therefore essentially no better than Adolf Hitler's Nazis—as a strategy of ultra-leftism. The term has been popularised in the United States by the Socialist Workers' Party, who have used the term to both describe opponents in the anti-war movement[page needed] including Gerry Healy. Ultra-leftism is often associated with leftist sectarianism, in which a socialist current might attempt to put its own short-term interests before the long term interests of the working class and its allies.
A number of far-left parties gave birth to militant organisations during the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction. These groups generally aimed to overthrow capitalist systems and replace them with socialist societies.
- March, Luke (2008). Contemporary Far Left Parties in Europe (PDF). Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. p. 3. ISBN 978-3-86872-000-6.
- Hloušek, Vít; Lubomír Kopeček (2010). Origin, ideology and transformation of political parties: East-Central and Western Europe compared. Ashgate Publishing. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-7546-7840-3.
- Cosseron, Serge (ed.). Le dictionnaire de l'extrême gauche. Paris: Larousse, 2007. p. 20
- Herbert McClosky, Dennis Chong (1985). "Similarities and Differences Between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals". British Journal of Political Science. Cambridge University Press. 15 (3): 329–63. doi:10.1017/s0007123400004221. JSTOR 193697.
- Hansen, Joseph. Marxism vs. Ultraleftism: The Record of Healy's Break with Trotskyism. ISBN 0873486897. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
- Weinberg, Leonard; Pedahzur, Ami (2008). Political Parties and Terrorist Groups. Routledge studies in extremism and democracy. Volume 10. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 9781135973377.
- Chaliand, Gérard; Blin, Arnaud (2007). The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda. University of California Press. p. 257. ISBN 9780520247093.
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- Libertarian Communist Library – an archive of libertarian, left and ultra-left communist texts
- Ultra-left links
- Gilles Dauvé and François Martin "Leninism and the Ultra-Left"
- Peter Camejo, Liberalism, Ultra-Leftism or mass action
- Abbie Bakan, Ultraleftism: left words, sectarian practice
- International Luxemburgist Network (Anti-Leninist)